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Apr 8, 2015, 12:31 PM


Alhaji Master M.D.Salla was born in Dippa Kunda on August 12th 1913 in the compound of the then Alkali of the area called Alhaji Omadi Gassama. His mother was Mam Yassin Salla and his father was Mam Demba Salla both of whom hailed from Dingirye in C.R.R. He was called Omadi in his childhood days and responded to this nomen for several years right up to his high school career. Upon his own initiative and decision he subsequently changed this name to Muhammadou Demba Salla when he embraced Islam branching out to the Tijaniya faith and stIcking to this line or school of thought up to his demise on Monday, February 16th 2015. This was during the second world war when he relayed information about the war to the local populace from the then only radio station in the country and just before he got married to my late Mum Ajaratou Amie Gaye Salla in 1943 with whom he had thirteen children – seven girls and six boys with Justice Naceesay Salla Wadda being the last and the “spoilt” one and was very close to Daddy.

Alhaji Master M.D.Salla was destined to be a teacher and an educationist. Upon return from his training in England, he traversed the entire length and breadth of the country and taught in various schools before finally settling and being the first teacher and head teacher of the first school ever to be built in Bakau. He settled in Bakau (where my sister Haddy Salla formerly of the Central Bank was born) between 1946 and 1951 when he was promoted to be the first Gambian Principal at Armitage High School. The name of the title to this post was head teacher but recommendation was made by the then British Colonial Secretary to upgrade the title to that of Principal when he stepped in.

Excellence and the thirst for knowledge  first for oneself and then to impart or inculcate onto others was the spirit that Master Salla (as he is better known by his students) left at Bakau school and other schools across the country. This was the same spirit that reigned at Armitage High School where he enrolled and taught students that later became luminaries in various fields some of whom are Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, Fafa Edrissa Mbye, Professor Lamin O. Sanneh, the Late Jay Saidy, the late Sheriff Saikouba Sisay just to name a few. It is these same students as well as a host of others that speak for their Master. What I have heard personally from Fafa Mbye, the late Jay Saidy and the late Sheriff Sisay (all of whom would stop by the house when possible and extend greetings to their Master) not to talk of the Book entitled “Kairaba” and authored by Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara who not only dedicated an entire chapter labeled “Master Salla keeps me in School”, but the entire book being also dedicated to him is testimony to the fact that Master pursued and lived for Excellence and instilled this spirit into his students. Fafa Mbai also talks of how he was removed from school by his father who thought Fafa had already learnt enough and should go back and help him and how Master Salla moved swiftly and drove his Land Rover from Armitage High in Georgetown to Fafa’s village in Sambang to secure his ‘release’ and take him back to Armitage. I know of many other examples. Not only was he the shepherd that ensured that his flock was always intact but to make sure also that discipline, excellence and a scholarly outlook to life be their motto and to the letter.

Many students refer to Master as also being the “Nyanga – gi” as he would not let any student break a school rule. He enforced the rule (just like with us at the home) and breaking it meant being punished for it. I was very close to my Dad, Master M.D.Salla and even though he was very strict, stern and whom we regarded with awe, I asked him questions stretching from why he was referred to as “Nyanga” by some students, why he does not spell our surname “Salla” with a letter “h” at the end, and many other questions some on the Koran and others strictly with the Tijanniya Faith. Regarding the question on “Nyanga”, his response was that moulding or shaping somebody requires at times, scolding that person but that is just to guide them (the students). The ultimate objective was that by the time the teacher parted company with the student, he would have inculcated good behavior and tickled the learning spirit onto that student. He insisted that letter ‘h’ is a soft consonant and adding it to be the last letter would make the surname be pronounced “Sallaaa”. The second syllable of the surname should be short and not long as in the case of “Sallah” and this is why, he would continue, some people bearing the surname only spell it as if it were just one syllable or a monosyllabic proper noun as in “Sall” thereby completely removing the second syllable. Salla or Sallah hails from Toucoulorr but I prefer not to enter into this topic in this homage to a dear daddy.

From Armitage, Master Salla was appointed Gambia’s First Education Officer (Protectorate) by the Colonial Secretary being the only Education Officer in those days responsible for the entire country carrying out school inspection duties.  He had his Land Rover and would narrate how a narrow laterite road leading up to Koina was the only artery to the hinterland. Some of these stories are horror stories particular when hyenas or other wild creatures would pose a serious threat on these roads. One of these incidents involved a giant python that had coiled itself in the middle of the laterite road in one of his trips up country and this creature that when coiled had almost the height of the vehicle and would not budge but stayed menacingly in the middle of the road for a long time as if preparing to pounce on him when all of a sudden, whether by miracle or not, the beast ceded passage and disappeared into the bushes. Not only was he determined to carry on with his duties, Master was a staunch believer in Allah and had already espoused the Tijanniya faith and it was to Allah and the Tijanniya that he took refuge in when his Hermitage started in March 1967 and stretching for a span of forty eight years when he answered to the call of His Lord on February 16th 2015.

Master Salla spent forty eight years at 4, Oxford Street and only ventured out three times with the first being in 1972 when his mother Mam Yassin passed away and the second was in October 2004 when my elder sister Mrs Ndey Yassin Jagne passed away and the third time was when he was admiited at the Edward Francis Small hospital then called the RVH. The Holy Koran and the Tijanniya were his refuge throughout this period and nothing would distract him from this optic. Like he always said, “the Tijanniya Faith is a very clear and functioning Network through which to reach your Creator”. He dwelled in the network throughout the forty eight years spanning his hermitage and daddy was the father that believed that he was still a teacher even at age one hundred years old: he was ready to show the way into the Network to any that was ready for it and I followed him deep into it. He alone would recite the entire Holy Koran first taking him three days to do so, then five days, a week, ten days, two weeks and this trend continued up to when he was ninety nine years old and had to undergo a major operation at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital. The surgeon that carried out this brilliant performance was none other than my former student at the Gambia High School, Doctor Amadou Samateh and this was in December 2011. It was then that I became convinced that there indeed are geniuses in this country for a major operation on a ninety nine year old person be carried out successfully on Gambian soil making it possible for him to live some few additional years in peace. I believe Doctor Amadou Samateh is highly worthy of commendation and even though the old man had asked him to stop by the house for a wife, he has still not showed up. I know Samateh from school and know him to be a shy person but very sharp. Doctor Samateh himself would confirm that Master Salla had asked him if the operation was really going to take place in the Yahya Jammeh Hospital (the name of the hospital at the time was RVH) and knowing the consequences (we had already warned Samateh about this point) he responded and said yes just for the operation to take place. He prayed for the Head of State up to his very last day and I am a witness to this.

He demonstrated to us through action that one can recite the entire Holy Koran alone through determination and perseverance. In forty eight years, ne never asked anybody or a group to come to the house to do it for him. He was introducing the D.I.Y. (do it yourself) approach to different things in life. When you do it yourself he used to say, you do it better as you are not in a rush or any competition. You do it out of faith and not expecting any direct payment from anyone but only Allah’s reward.

I was introduced to the Tijanniya Wazifa and faith very early in life. My first Wazifa was at the house and with him. We did it together (just two of us) for several years. I have read the Koran in its entirety under him and I am still doing so at intervals having adopted the D.I.Y. approach.  I am not as devoted as he was up to the last minute but I must confess that I learnt a lot from him. Yes, I learnt a lot from him and got motivated by him to research into and write about the wollof we speak.  He always told me that our wollof is all French but he did not have a French background to establish the truth but gave me an insight as well as ideas as to what to do. I followed that trend and have been on it since 1983 when I was a French/English teacher at the Gambia High School and having met many bright students who also motivated me in the debates – the general studies classes.  This research or paper that has captured all practical words in our greater Banjul area wollof and defined them according to part of speech and showing how they have their roots in French is indeed going to trigger a lot of debate.

“Mbindan” or housemaid for instance is derived from the French. I have already defined the origin of this word composed of a verb and an adverb. It clearly has its roots in French and the paper gives an insight into how this profession started over one hundred years ago and the subsequent metamorphosis or ramifications. “Weranteh”, meaning an argument or loose debate as well as others like “Kankan” as in radio Kankan, “Fasseh” (divorce) and “Fye” or Faye (temporary breakdown in marital relations) between a couple, “Sagne” as in daffa sagne or daring, “Bambaneh” or baby-sitting, “Anyan” being hateful, “Sangara “or alcohol, “Mandy” meaning being drunk, “Nongo” or Ndongo meaning the youths and all of them clearly hailing from the French following the definition of the part of speech to which they belong is enough to send signals to anyone that the French must have been very active in Bathurst, the former name of the capital and had their hands almost everywhere in the economy  as wollof names for working tools in carpentry, welding, sewing, names of culinary utensils, as well as the A-Z of the greater Banjul area wollof vocabulary all have their roots in French and this raises the big question: what is a dialect? What factors compose a dialect and what factors compose a language? What is the linguistic status when more than 90% of the words and expression in any language can be empirically established as being foreign?

Let us unravel some riddles. The wollof word “Tapalleh” derives from the French idiomatic expression “tape à l’oeil” (pronounced tapaloi) with “tape” being the verb and pronounced “tap” and followed by the preposition “à “and the masculine definite article l’ and the masculine noun “oeil” meaning an eye. The expression refers to something or someone that is fake, not real, dubious, deceitful etc and verb, preposition, definite article and noun all condensed to produce Tapalleh in the wollof and carrying the same meaning as in the French “Tape à l’oeil” – “Tapalleh”.  “Galancorr” meaning being blocked, stalled or impeded by forces beyond one’s control in wollof stems from the French “Calé encore” being the past participle “calé” meaning stalled or blocked and the adverb “encore” meaning that the action is still ongoing but both fused in the wollof (participle and adverb) to become “caléencore” and we call it “Galancorr”. I mentioned above that “Faye or fye” meaning a temporary breakdown in marital relations as well as “Fasseh” meaning a divorce both hail from the French. When the two of them happen, the natural sequel is “Rogne Bagass” meaning the packing of belongings. Both Rogne and bagass are French with “Rogne” derived from the French verb “Rogner” and its first, second and third persons singular in the present tense are all pronounced “Rogne” and meaning what it means in the wollof. “Bagass” hails from the masculine noun “Bagage” meaning also what it means in the wollof. When such luggage or “bagass” are loaded onto a wheelbarrow  or “puss puss” in wollof derived from the French “pousse pousse”, the conductor starts moving by saying, “Anawa” meaning “let’s go” and this “anawa” hails from the French expression “On y va” also meaning “let’s go, let’s move” etc.

Wollof is a shadow of the French Language and it is more attached to French than Creole or Aku is to English. Make no mistake about it. Wollof is to French what the fruit is to the tree that engendered it.  The old man saw a parallel colonial force (an overt and a covert colonizer) in the country during the British Colonial Period and had wanted the authorities to introduce the learning of French at an early stage in the school curriculum but he met a lot of resistance. He continued however fighting for it as he saw a very strong connection between the local household language and French. Just imagine, “Bunta and palanterr” hail from the French Language. “Palanterr” is taken from the French “Par l’entrefer” (pronounced parlantrferr) with “par” being the preposition and meaning “through” is followed by the masculine definite article “l’” and then the masculine noun “entrefer” meaning an air-gap and together meaning “through the air-gap” which is our Palanterr. To sleep in wollof is “Nelew” whilst to wake up is “Ewou”. Both nelew and ewou have their roots in French and have already been defined according to part of speech together with some other unimaginable and startling surprises. It is the part of speech that leads us to the roots and therefore, the linkage. It is the torchlight into this etymological exercise that leads us into the derivation of domestic names like “melentan meaning an ant, picha meaning a bird, ganarr for chicken and canara for duck, moos for cat, hach for dog and harr for sheep, golo for monkey – all taken from the French. There is not one aspect of life no matter how remote that has escaped French influence.

The market or “marrseh” lingo like “kiliyan” “rosbif”, “biftek”, “cotlet”, “geress” or fat, “pees” meaning cloth as well as “serr” meaning expensive and “Wanyi” meaning a request for a reduction in price and all being French words as well as names of institutions like “Campama” engendered by the French masculine noun “Campement” (pronounced campma), Lasso wharf, “Lopitan “and “Marrseh” is enough to see the indelibility and perhaps even the irreversibility of French culture within an Anglo phone environment. In Lasso Wharf, “Lasso” is derived from the French whilst “Wharf” is English. So “Lasso wharf” is a Franco-English name. “Lasso” is the fusion by the wollof of the feminine definite article “La” to the feminine noun “Chaux meaning quicklime to become “Lachaux” which pronunciation degraded to the wollof “Lasso” which also means quicklime. These names were paradoxically instituted when Britain was the colonial master and more so, Bathurst being an Anglophone environment.  I am not anywhere near the level of my cousin Mrs Ya Fatou Njie Senghore who has a very powerful command and mastery of English, French and Wollof, but I can safely say that each and every practical wollof word hails from the French Language or “Laka” meaning language in wollof and being derived from a French feminine noun. I can safely say that more than ninety percent of the words and expressions we use on a daily basis within the greater Banjul area have their roots in French and an exercise or paper to this effect is almost complete following a visit into cranny, cleft and nook that might have hid a word or two and being guided by Daddy’s Torchlight. “Lijanti” or “Lijanti ko” or “dina ko lijanti”. “Lijanti” is French. The French expression is “Trouver le Jointe” meaning find the solution or the answer with “Le jointe” being the solution or the answer. “Le” is the masculine definite article and “jointe” being the masculine noun and when fused like in the wollof, it becomes “lejointe” from whence our “Lijanti” both meaning the solution or the answer. There are plenty more wollof words hidden under several more idiomatic expressions and have been treated and spelt out according to part of speech. 

 We had three in one at 4, Oxford Street: a home, a “darra” or Koranic School and a School in the western sense itself. Principal Salla was always around sitting next to his imaginary blackboard and giving lessons and would never come late or be absent from class but like all other kids, we also had our juvenile pranks that we employed when we wanted to go out and play. The other side of him is the Holy Koran and the “Salatul Fatiha” and the “Jawharatul Kamal” which he said are the Guidelines and Torchlight into the Tijanniya faith. I witnessed what it means to be a hermit and literally witnessed life inside the hermitage.  The old man was permanently inside the “Tijanniya Network” with his prayer bead and Koran and I knew how to enter, spend time with him and twist him to being attentive to me but I also knew how to leave. In forty eight years, the old man never attended a wedding ceremony, nor a naming ceremony, nor funeral except for the two mentioned above. He did not attend any political activity, neither a social or religious or any economic activity. He stayed within the confines of his home for forty eight years and cherishing his hermitage and studying the Holy Koran and steadfast to his deep adherence to the principles of the Tijanniya. He was content with life inside there and we always knew that he was on the other side of the spectrum irrespective of the subject matter so we coped with the situation though necessary also to see that whilst we related to the real world, Daddy had already transcended into the spiritual world. We had to strike a balance.

 He told me on a number of occasions that on the day that the Almighty would put out the Candle light on him, that the first thing to do is to prepare him and before leaving the house we arrange for the Wazifa and after burial everybody should disperse and never to organize a three day, seven day or forty day occasion for a charity. This is a natural and typical request of a hermit and should in all cases be respected. His legacy is excellence, honesty and dedication to hard work and a scholarly outlook to life. The Holy Koran and his Prayer Bead were his biggest assets inside the Hermitage.

Our thanks and gratitude go to the Imam Ratib of Banjul, Alhaji Cherno Alieu Mass Kah as well as the members of the King Fahd Mosque Committee and Imam Pa Njie of the Pipeline Mosque and members of the Pipeline Mosque Committee who visited him regularly in his last years. We thank also the old Armitage High School Boys particularly Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara and Fafa Edrissa M’bai and all those that expressed their condolences to us. Our thanks and gratitude also go to Reverend Gabbi Allen who visited with the sole aim of offering a service: prayed for the entire family.

The wollof word “Mandou” meaning a God fearing person hails from the French expression “Main de Dieu” meaning God’s work as in a miracle or the hand of God or God’s friend as with a God fearing person with “main” being the feminine noun and followed by the preposition “de” meaning “of” and finally “Dieu” being the masculine noun and meaning “God” all compounded in the wollof as “maindedieu” and begetting our “Mandou” and both meaning the same thing.

May His gentle Soul as well as that of Ya Amie Gaye (his spouse for 72 years) who passed away ten months before him Rest In Perfect Peace. Amen

Sheikh Tijan M.D.Salla

4, Oxford Street


Cell phone: 974 88 22.